The groups of adults who eased into the Union City High School Library and Media Center early Wednesday morning looked remarkably out of place in this hub of education: a soldier, a police officer, an accountant and even a spy – well, a former FBI agent, anyway.
Seated at one table was a bunch of cops and other men in suits. At another table was an artist. All had come to talk about their careers and answer questions students might have during Career Day on March 28.
Speakers included doctors, teachers, physical fitness managers, bank managers, a hotel manger, chefs, even a Salsa dancer, musicians, chemical engineers, members of the United States military, engineers, a professional singer, a model, an EMT, a club owner and many others.
People were recruited for this event in a number of ways. Parents brought their own stories to the classroom. Others were business people such as the school district accountant, while others were brought in by invitation.
Schools Superintendent Stanley Sanger said the school wanted to expose its students to the wide range of opportunities available.
“Union City High school is providing students with a tremendous opportunity.” – Stanley Sanger
He said some of those giving lectures were former students, or parents, or their friends. Some are connected with colleges and universities.
“Many of them work within an urban environment sharing their life experiences with our students,” he said. “But everyone benefits, not just the students. So do our speakers. They are life long learners and learn from our students as well.”
The event was broken into four parts, with keynote speakers Maria Hinojosa, Caryl Lucas and Rafael Bello in an opening assembly, then two breakout sessions where guests lectured kids in various classrooms around the school, and finally a presenters’ luncheon at the conclusion.
Sanger said this event has been held for years at the Union Hill and Emerson high schools in Union City, but was now being conducted in the new Union City High School for the first time.
Ed Peterson, a former student in Union City and a retired FBI agent with his own security firm, returned to talk about a career in law enforcement. He said it felt great to come back, although he has been back to Union City fairly often as part of his consulting work.
Accountant Mauricio Canto, who works for the Bayonne –based Donohue, Gironda & Doria, is the auditor for the Union City Board of Education. He said he came to talk to the students about accounting as a profession but also to give students the basics.
“There are a lot of benefits to knowing this, even for personal use,” he said.
Artist Ruddy Adams brought with some of his art to show the students. A freelance artist who has lived in various towns in North Hudson, he came to give students a perspective of an artist’s career.
“You have to stick to it,” he said. “It’s not easy.”
But for him there were a number of perks, such as meeting a lot of people and world travel.
Getting a reaction
Among the speakers was Union City Reporter staff writer Gennarose Pope, who spoke to two groups of students about journalism and answered questions. Many of the students of the first class were interested in video and TV journalism, although student Kristy Cruz said she was interested in finding out about more. Vanessa Montalvo, who had worked at an editor on a student newspaper, said she was also interested in various aspects of the profession.
“Most of them came because they were interested in print journalism, a few were interested in television journalism, and a few were placed in the class,” Pope said, talking about a more vibrant second session. “Some loved to write, some loved interacting with people, and some loved the idea that everyone has a story.”
Pope used a variety of tools to spark student responses, including a somewhat scattered drawing of an abstract cat on the white board intended to get kids to describe what they saw as a lesson on trying to report objectively. She was impressed by the fact that each of the 25 or so students in the room had a different one-word description for a simple abstract drawing on the board.
“See how many different words you came up with for one object?” she asked the students. “Now take 800 words, several different sources, your own unavoidable opinions we all form about a situation before we actually get there, potential misinformation, and the added possibility of emotional duress or tragedy. It becomes much more complicated to be neutral then,” she said. “They got it.”
A former teacher, Pope tried to reach the students and to answer their questions. Did she influence any of the kids?
“In a teacher’s career, the saying goes that if you get to one kid you’ve succeeded,” she said. “This originates from the experiential notion that kids are hard to impress in a traditional, topical sense. If I was fortunate enough to influence any of them, I’d have to say they were beforehand unaware of just how much goes into the job: the passion; the multitasking; the organization; the responsibility of finding, pitching, researching and conducting the proper interviews necessary; and the idea of having to write on deadline regardless of whether you feel like it or not.”